Monday, October 11, 2010

Self Care

Most of us who sit in front of a computer all day spend at least a few minutes browsing the headlines on some of the more popular websites (Yahoo, CNN, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or even some entertainment blogs). Today, I was doing just that when I got a brash reminder of who we have become as a collective culture. We are (for the most part) the people who drag ourselves into work everyday no matter what is going on. Health issues, family crisis, family event be damned. If drama doesn’t have the good sense to occur on a weekend, then it will have to wait in line behind a myriad of conference calls, e-mails, meetings and presentations. Otherwise, there would never be a need to remind people to do basic self care.

I’ll explain. I logged on to Yahoo today to check one of my personal e-mail accounts (and to clean out the daily smattering of spam). While on the home page, I browsed the Today section. After a quick scan, I saw headlines about the death of a “controversial” Miss USA titleholder, cooking with coffee, and a fine imposed on Terrell Owens for tweeting too close to a game. Then I came across “Signs You’re Too Ill for Work.” I clicked on the link thinking I would find a warning to keep your germs to yourself and some common cold prevention tips. Wash your hands, stay away from co-workers who are hacking up a lung without covering their mouths, don’t touch door handles, etc.

Instead I found, stay home if you (i) have a fever over 100 degrees; (ii) are a sneezing, runny-nosed mess (and it’s not allergies); (iii) are vomiting or experiencing diarrhea; (iv) just got a prescription for antibiotics (because it takes 24 hours for them to kick in); or (v) can’t sit, stand, walk or twist. The article ends with a reminder that “taking a day to heal doesn’t make you a slacker! Schlepping to work when you’re truly ill may seem heroic, but resting a day or two can speed your recovery and save you (and your co-workers) lost time in the long run.”

It made me wonder what type of society we live in where we need that sort of reminder. Then I sit back and think of where I was a couple of years ago. Sick…really sick and suffering from a seemingly unending lupus flare. I went to work almost every day. I exposed my co-workers to a withering, hair losing shell of a person all for the sake of being a team player (read: law firm martyr). More importantly, I didn’t give my body the respect it needed to cope. As a result, I got worse and worse until I was bed ridden for a couple of weeks and eventually in a hospital infusion unit. All of that, as you know, didn’t make me a hero or keep me employed in this struggling economy. The new me, the one I have been focusing on for the past year, has a different level of respect for self. The body I have might not be perfect. Admittedly, it is far from it…but it gets me where I need to go and even when it’s in pain, its still ticking and moving me forward through this crazy life. I owe it to my body and to the God that gave it to me to respect it and take care of it when it is breaking down. It took me what seemed like forever to know that taking a day to heal doesn’t make me a slacker. Yet, today, I was glaring at words that reminded me to rest when I am sick. My brain was screaming “DUH!” I guess I finally learned the lesson: This isn’t elementary school. Life is a marathon and perfect attendance isn’t going to get me anything that matters at the end of my life. In fact, all it might do is decrease the distance to the finish line. In the race of life, who really wants to finish quickly when you have the choice of finishing well? Know better? Do better.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finding your Passion

There is a new show on MTV called World of Jenks. It is a short documentary style series that follows a young filmmaker (Andrew Jenks) as he spends time with people from all walks of life. So far, he has spent time with a homeless teen, a rapper, a UFC fighter, a teen suffering from Autism and an animal rescuer. He takes a lesson from each person and moves on. At the close of last night's episode, Jenks, who narrates the show, explained that though her work was dangerous, the animal rescuer was following her passion. He went on to explain that the root of the word "passion" comes from the Latin word meaning "suffer." It surprised me and then made me think about all of the inspirational quotes that encourage us to follow our passion.

If there is no passion in your life, then have you really lived? Find your passion, whatever it may be. Become it, and let it become you and you will find great things happen FOR you, TO you and BECAUSE of you.
-- T. Alan Armstrong

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.
-- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

"There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”
-- Federico Fellini

If you replace passion with suffering in those quotes, they somehow lose their appeal. No one truly wants to suffer. Yet, the quotes don't lose their meaning. Isn't it true that if there is no suffering in our lives, we haven't really lived or accomplished anything? Of course, if given the chance, we would all wish the suffering of the world away but aren't we often greater people for having faced and overcome the suffering that pops up in our lives? Would I be as passionate about helping victims of domestic violence/sexual assault if I had not once been there myself? Or would I have developed a passion for writing if suffering didn't give me a need to vent? Would I care about lobbying for greater health care coverage in the U.S. if I wasn't sick and battling with insurance companies? Simply put, no, not at all.

Finding and exploring your passion may not always be a pleasant process and it may not lead you into glorious work for which you are well paid, but it will teach you many life lessons. At the end of your life, when you remember what you were passionate about, chances are you won't reflect on the suffering. Instead (if you are lucky) you will speak poetically about fulfillment and passion and the meaning it gave to your life. You will encourage others to follow their passion as you did.
Perhaps sharing that lesson is the point of this life. We are distracted and worried by many things but maybe the gut punch in your life (whatever it may be) will lead you to your purpose. Embrace it but don't dwell on it. Figure out the lesson and where it should lead you. Maybe it will lead to a change in the world. Maybe it will just lead to a change in you. Either way, the world is better for it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Hubby and I celebrated his birthday and our 2nd anniversary this month. We managed to zip out of town for a quick road trip. As per usual, I printed maps and museum brochures and restaurant menus. The best moments of that trip were not any of the things I planned. It was the last minute, unplanned moments that started with “Ooh look! An old fashioned ice cream shop!” and ended with a walk on the pier in a seaside town and sticky hands covered with melted ice cream.  It was in the closeness of talking in the car and laughing at each other’s jokes without the interruption of the TV or the telephone. The occasion was an excuse to get away but the celebration was in the recognition of my own happiness.

It got me thinking. There are few moments in life where we are happy and actually take the time to sit back and acknowledge it. We get so caught up in the celebration of occasions and the counting of milestones, that we forget to relish the journey. Just like marriage exists separate and apart from the pomp and circumstance of the wedding ceremony, life exists outside of the day to day. It resides in the moments. If we’re not taking time to relish those moments, we’re just moving through the days because biology and responsibility compel us to. Being alive shouldn’t be the focus of our joy only on birthdays just like marriage shouldn’t be honored only on anniversaries.
I have been on a roller coaster over the last year or so. Actually, I was on a roller coaster for the 6+ years I worked in BigLaw. Then I was on a long slide into hell…at least that is what I would have said if you asked me what my life was like shortly after losing my job. Then, something happened. I stopped focusing on what was wrong and started talking about what I wanted. Mostly, it was to know who I was going to be if I wasn’t a big firm lawyer. I spent so much time giving myself to my old job that I had little left for me and the people that I love.  In those moments after I lost my job, all I had was time to give of myself and to myself. Eventually, things got better and now I am on a journey of my own choosing. Opportunities keep popping up and I keep taking them. My plate holds a heaping helping but I don’t feel a bit overwhelmed and I still manage to talk to hubby at night about everything (big life moments) and nothing (the commute, what’s on TV, etc.).

All of this hit me like a feather (that’s more pleasant…hit me like a ton of bricks seems so much more violent, right?) as I was frosting carrot cupcakes for hubby’s b-day. I felt really happy with my life in that moment, and for once, I said it out loud and (BONUS!) I was able to explain exactly why.  I like my jobs and I like volunteering. I am happy with my marriage and starting to pick up the pieces of my financial near-disaster. Of course, there is room to grow and I am not where I thought I would be at this point in my life. Yet, everything says this is where I am supposed to be. So, I wake up because I want to (and God allowed me to) and not because my alarm went off or because my paycheck needs earning.  The biggest lesson that I learned over the past year was to trust the journey. If I knew then what I know now, and could have given myself advice a year ago, I would have said: If you stop trying to control it, you will end up where you
are supposed to be. That’s not to say that it will be easy. It is to say, however, that even when it’s hard, ultimately, it will be ok. Keep moving ahead. Stop to relish the moments that make this long string of days into a life. Evaluate the baggage you carry on a regular basis. Drop the worn out hurts and disappointments as soon as you can. Heavy burdens are not yours to bear…and they make the journey so much less pleasant. When one thing isn’t working, lean on the things that are. If everything isn’t working, learn to lean on God. And then, just before the me of a year ago raised an eyebrow and said, “Spare me all the philosophical B.S.” I would have left it at that.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


After talking to a good friend this week, I found myself giving advice that I don't take to heart very often. We were talking about being taken for granted and I was waxing philosophical about how most people focus on the broken people and things in their life and in trying to fix them, we let the people and things that work take a back seat. I talked about how ridiculous it is and then after ending the conversation, I took a look in the proverbial mirror and had a "pot, meet kettle" moment. I have spent (maybe I should say wasted) years of my life worrying about things I can't fix or change and about people who treat me so poorly that they aren't worth my effort. In the meantime, I have put so many working relationships on the back burner. I have spent so much time being frustrated and depressed about tests, job rejections, finances, health conditions, broken friendships, the judgment of others, vanity (weight loss/gain, gray hairs and the like) and a seemingly unending list of other assorted what-ifs while life kept moving forward.

At the same time, if you ask me on any given day what the most important things in my life are, I wouldn't list one of those things I worried about. I would list the things that make my life worth facing everyday. You wouldn't have to listen long to be convinced that what I hold dear forms the foundation that keeps life from crumbling down on top of me. If you dug a little deeper though, you would see that I love my husband and think of him often during the day but that our relationship falls low on my list of things to take time for Monday-Friday because I have work to do, appointments to make, etc., etc. ad nauseum.

My current TO DO list says:

Finish report
Finish spreadsheet
Design program for event
Plan meals for week
Grocery shop
Finish library book
Work on new ring design
Update blog
Get Advil from Target
Call doctor

Where is life on that list? I mean sure, the boring stuff that makes up the everyday is there but, there is no joy...unless you take real pleasure in crossing things off of your grocery list. I don't. Yet, if someone said "all you do is work," I would contest it in a heartbeat. I notice that my list doesn't say "tell husband you love him," "take a moment for yourself," or "call mom, dad and sister just to say hi." Most people would say, "Those things don't need to be written down. We just know to do them." Yet, we get so busy with the things that have made the list that we don't pay attention to those things/people that "don't need to be written down." So, in this quest to find the new me, I have decided to modify my priorities. Why not? I’m the author of this chapter of my life. At the end, when the credits roll, I don’t want my tombstone to say: “Here lies Nicole. She was worn out from worry but she had groceries in the fridge.”

My life is MUCH happier these days and I am less stressed since I left large law firm practice but when issues arise, I fall into old habits. The focus is work, housework (which often falls way too low on the list), and errands...with a few exceptions. In this life, I have given too much time to my least favorite things and I can say the same for most people that I know. Maybe its time that the things we don’t need to put on the list start getting written down right along with the reports and groceries. Take time for the things and people that aren’t broken. They deserve to be in the prologue to your day and not in the end notes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Purpose vs. Profession

Purpose and profession are not necessarily the same thing. It sounds simple, right? Yet, most of us (including me) often go through life defining themselves by what they do and how it will influence what they will leave behind. When I lost my previous job, I didn't know what to think of myself. I have written about that before. I had gone through life to that point defining myself as a lawyer first. Then, I became more of myself and less of my job title because...well, I didn't have a job title. Then, when I got a new job, I had trouble defining myself because I wasn't practicing law and there was some sense of loss in that. When I started to get adjusted to my new role and I began to love my job, I began to feel what I thought was purpose surging through my veins again. The only drawback was that I was struggling financially. Then, there was the health insurance fiasco that I wrote about a few weeks ago. And all of a sudden, seemingly out of the sky came a potential job offer that would pay me 4 times what I am making now. All of it led to a series of questions. Is money the right reason to leave a job? If working in my current job is truly my purpose, why am I struggling so much? If I am not meant to go back to corporate practice, why did this opportunity come to me? Then, I was reading "The Purpose Driven Life" last night and came across the line that purpose and profession are not necessarily the same thing. I have owned this book for several years now and started it a couple of times but never stuck with it. To be honest, I never got past chapter two. But everything happens for a reason and things (and people) come into your life when they are supposed to. I happened to be in my husband's home office on Friday telling him about my day. After I finished talking, I turned to go downstairs to veg out on the sofa and relax in front of the TV. Then, for some reason, I decided to stay. I turned on NBC to watch my new favorite show: Who Do You Think You Are? and plopped down in the client chair. On a commercial break, I was staring at the bookshelf and there it was. I picked it up and started reading it on commercial breaks. The book prompts you to read just one short chapter per day and to reflect on the focus of each chapter for that day. After reading through the first three chapters, I have walked away with a couple of thoughts but most important was the thought that opened this entry.  

My profession doesn't have to define me and I don't have to give all of myself to my job. I can work and get paid enough to live on, have better health insurance options and still make time to pursue my passions. Maybe I was led to my current job to find my purpose and then, once I further developed a passion for helping others and not just giving lip service to it, an opportunity came so that I can prosper both financially and physically. This revelation brings me full circle to when I started this blog.  When I started the site, in the description of myself, I wrote "This blog is to document my journey from six figures to no figures and back (hopefully). Circumstances have led me to find a new me. I guess if I am ever going to start over and create a life where I like what I do and still manage to be financially secure, it might as well be now."

I do like what I am doing now but I am certainly not financially secure. In fact, I am sinking more and more everyday but I HAVE found a new me. A me that puts me higher on my list of priorities and won't sacrifice my passions and interests for my career. A me that doesn't feel guilty about taking a stand for myself...and perhaps, soon, a me that is financially secure. All that in less than a year. I wonder what the rest of the year will bring!    

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lost Generation by Jonathan Reed

Here is the poem I promised. You need sound on your computer to get the full effect.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I haven't written in a while and its not for lack of things to post about. Lots of things have been happening in my life and and its transcending the blog and moving to a visual medium. My best friend, after months of listening to me and others vent about job loss, health care, and other drama floating in this recession induced abyss, has decided to work on a documentary. It's an exciting project for me to be involved in and I look forward to updating you as it moves from an idea to a final product.

In terms of my own woes, I have been bumping my head against the pre-existing condition exclusion with my new insurance company. I almost feel like I was better off unemployed. I was excited to have a job after months of searching for many reasons. It was new, and though the job I took pays next to nothing, it presented me with a tremendous opportunity for personal growth AND health care (as opposed to expensive COBRA coverage). I waited to finish my probationary period and then went in to choose my health coverage option. I discovered that the insurance company had raised the rate by over 23%. This would mean that half of my already insufficient pay would be going to health care for only me (spousal coverage would take about 75% of my monthly pay). This doesn't include dental and vision coverage. It was a take it or leave it proposition initially because small companies simply don't have the "leverage to negotiate." Then, we were presented with a few other options with lower premiums. For me, this was terrible because the low premium plans have high deductibles and you can't see a specialist (which is all I have seen for years) without a referral. Prescriptions are over double what I used to pay with my six figure salary. The process of picking the plan for the whole agency was...well, you'll have to wait for the documentary, but I'll say that it put me in a situation where I felt laid bare in front of my co-workers, I spilled a few tears and at the end of what felt like a battle, I went home without the win. Once I finally chose a plan, I came home expecting to get an insurance card. Instead, I got a letter about my pre-existing condition and how I can legally be excluded from treatment for these conditions for up to one year. I am five days from running out of some of my medications, I haven't seen my rheumatologist in 3 months and I am in a back and forth paperwork exchange with the insurance company. Heavy sigh. To be honest, a potential position came up with another company and though it's a contract position, if ultimately offered to me, I will take it. It sucks that most fulfilling jobs aimed at social justice are impossible to sustain unless you are independently wealthy. If I get excluded from coverage for a pre-existing condition, I will be choosing between heat and health care. Its not the place I want to be and it's certainly not a place I can live in considering my health issues. Again, we're back at the tug of war between personal fulfillment and financial commitments.

So why the heck is this post called "Out of the Mouths of Babes?" Despite all of the drama in my own life, I had the opportunity over the past four days to help facilitate a workshop for high school students talking about how they deal with various "isms" (sexism, racism, heterosexism, adultism, etc.) in their lives. The workshop gave them a chance to bond, to speak out, to listen, to validate and to share. What I walked away with was a sense that despite the struggles they have to deal with at such young ages, they feel empowered to change the world. They agreed that the world is filled with ills and they seem overwhelming but they still feel that change is possible. Most importantly, they feel it starts with small changes in their own lives. I have to say, these young people had a serious impact on me. They have been through a lot and are wise beyond their years. Their fervor reminded me of the saying I wear on an inscribed bangle almost daily: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Gandhi

I am rejuvenated and reminded not to get bogged down by my own situation. I need to focus on the bigger picture because until it changes, my situation will remain the same. Something has to be done about ________________. You can fill in your own blank. At the moment, mine would say health care, unemployment, underemployment, cuts to funding for non-profit organizations working for social justice, and better medications for lesser known illnesses. Though I spent the week empowering youth, I walked away empowered too. I feel the strength of my voice a little more and am better prepared to raise it. Who's with me?

Also, check out the next post for a great poem that one of the students from the workshop found and shared. Really good stuff.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Outside of Myself

Today was not a good day. The lack of compassion I experienced at the hands of others started my day with a slap in the face and the bad feelings promised to tug at my heels all day. By mid-morning, I had a whole blog mapped out in my head and my fingertips were eager to get close to a keyboard. Then, as I went through the day, I kept hearing more and more about the Haitian earthquake catastrophe. By the end of a long day, my migraine was severe but my problems, while valid in my world, seemed much smaller than they did this morning. After a few minutes of television news coverage, I was over myself. I realized that though my issues may be growing, there is someone out there that would trade their life in a heartbeat for a day of living in my sick body. Yet, even with my financial issues, unreasonable health care costs, and illnesses that are robbing me of choices and making major life decisions for me, I wouldn’t trade this life to walk a day in their bodies. With that, I decided to make a new Thank You bracelet today. I plan to use it for a couple of things. I plan to thank God for all of the things that my body does correctly. I also plan to thank God that I am able bodied enough to do what I can for others. After all, "our deeds determine us, as much as we determine our deeds." -George Eliot

So, instead of wallowing in our own pity today, why not look at how we can help others. Instead of drowning our miseries with wine, food, exercise, meaningless TV, etc., why not lift our spirits by doing something good for someone else who needs you more than you can imagine? There are so many opportunities to do good…to step outside of yourself and into the role of compassionate helper. If you can give, do so and if all you can do is pray, start your conversation with God.

If you want to help in Haiti, start by looking at the American Red Cross website ( or Yele Haiti (Wyclef Jean’s grassroots movement focused on raising awareness about Haiti and transforming the country through various programs).